Private companies Natural Systems Utilities, Middlesex Water Company and American Refining and Biochemical fronted the roughly $4 million capital cost of the project to transform waste from incoming water into electricity to power the plant. The village in turn purchases the electricity at a below-market price, according to officials.
The public-private partnership was lauded by both village officials and representatives of the companies involved, who said the financing arrangement had no precedents in New Jersey, and few if any in the country.
“This is the first setup where a municipality in New Jersey obtained their renewable energy through a public-private partnership,” said Donald Rodgers, NSU’s chief development officer.
Waste is separated from the water coming into the plant and broken down by bacteria, explained Chris Rutishauser, the village's engineer. Methane gas produced through that process, rather than being burned and released into the atmosphere, is refined and turned into fuel to power generators for the plant, which are supplemented by onsite solar panels.
For Rutishauser, a small flare at the plant where the gas once burned and escaped into the air for years represented unnecessary waste, and became the inspiration for the project.
“When I came down to visit the plant, I hated that flare,” he said. “Our goal was to eliminate that.”
“Instead of waste going into the air and increasing our carbon footprint, we’re getting another use out of it,” he added.
Officials spoke effusively of Rutishauser’s work on the project Friday morning during a “ribbon cutting” at the facility, located on village-owned property on Prospect Street in Glen Rock.
The renewable energy plan is “cutting edge technology that will be a model for municipalities throughout New Jersey,” said Councilwoman Bernadette Walsh, chair of the Ridgewood Environmental Advisory Committee.
“Chris’s dedication to our
village and keen outlook on environmental concerns enables our village to
realize substantial benefits. We are truly blessed to have him as a member of
our team,” she said.
The benefits are environmental as well as financial, according to officials. Bob Gillow, the superintendent of the plant, estimated that the initial costs cut would range from $20,000-40,000 annually, with additional potential savings in the future as energy prices and demand for electricity rise.
Mayor Paul Aronsohn, speaking to a small crowd on hand for the event Friday, noted that by going green, the village was saving green - cutting costs while reducing its environmental impact.
“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “It really gives new meaning to a green initiative.”
Earlier this year, solar panels were installed at Village Hall, the EMS building and fire department headquarters under the same public-private arrangement, according to Rutishauser. The outlay of capital by the private companies meant that the village took no financial risk in the undertaking, he said.
Under the contract with the companies, Ridgewood will buy electricity through the arrangement for 20 years, after which Rodgers said the village can decide to purchase the equipment at market value or continue the public-private partnership.